GRAIN recently released a report outlining the connections between global climate change and industrial meat and dairy production. GRAIN is a small international nonprofit organization that supports the struggle of small farmers and social movements for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Their report outlines the significant impact of the meat and dairy industries on greenhouse gas emissions and recommends how to improve the industry.
Food Tank had the opportunity to discuss the publication with the GRAIN team.
Food Tank (FT): Your report discusses how greenhouse gas emissions from meat and dairy production are increasing and are already higher than all transportation emissions combined. However, you draw a distinction between industrial production and small stakeholders. Why is industrial meat worse for the environment and what are other practices that can help improve the environmental impacts of meat production?
GRAIN: Most traditionally raised livestock in the world is integrated within mixed small-scale farming methods where the livestock is an essential and sustainable part of the system. Cattle often graze on land unsuitable for crop production, manure gets re-integrated into the soil, and produce is locally used. In contrast, in industrial production systems, livestock is often kept off the land, manure becomes a pollution problem, heavy fertilized feed crops are grown in far-away places causing deforestation, and a lot of its produce is traded internationally—all causing tremendous climate emissions and other forms of pollution. We have to re-integrate meat and dairy production into broader sustainable farming systems, promote sustainable grazing practices, and promote local markets as a way to reduce the impact of meat and dairy production on the environment and the climate. And we have to lower consumption in rich countries and by well-off people.
FT: The report quotes Rajendra Pachauri, a former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as saying, “I was the target of several efforts to discredit me,” after he suggested people eat less meat. How powerful are the meat and dairy industries and what actions are they taking to protect and promote themselves?
GRAIN: As we show in our report, today’s meat and dairy industries form a highly concentrated global corporate sector that command international markets and are pushing the growth of consumption everywhere. Through their trade and industry lobby groups, they yield enormous influence on governmental policies and often block initiatives to lower consumption or regulate the market. They are also centrally involved in establishing standards and definitions at international regulatory bodies and the U.N., which end up defining industrial meat production as climate friendly and traditional livestock holders as climate culprits. The way to combat them is by boycotting their products, lowering meat and dairy consumption, denouncing their practices, raising consumer awareness, and supporting small-scale producers and distributors. We also need to support watchdog groups that make transparent who is pushing what information about emissions and their sources!
FT: The report reviews several government actions in spite of lobbyists, mostly involving taxes on red meats and new dietary guidelines to encourage lower consumption. How successful are these measures likely to be and what else should be pursued?
GRAIN: It’s very important to get public policies in place to stop subsidizing the large-scale industrial meat and dairy sector and to promote short circuits and more decentralized markets gravitating around local produce from small integrated family farms instead. Markets are too biased right now in favor of the corporations. Fiscal policies have a role to play in achieving these shifts as do dietary guidelines, food councils, procurement programs, and trade policies. In many cases, this requires bottom-up action to get local governments (municipalities, cities, provinces or states) to adopt these kinds of measures. Of course, the hardest walls in all of this are trade and investment policies, which are crafted at the international level—to some extent at the World Trade Organisation but much more powerfully through so-called free trade agreements. Those trade deals are highly contested and in tremendous flux right now. So the time is right to bolster the campaigns to stop these trade deals and overhaul trade policy so that it supports rather than penalizes climate-friendly food systems. We participate in bilaterals.org, an open publishing website where you can find a lot more information about these campaigns.
FT: What are some ways that eaters can influence food production?
GRAIN: As consumers, people can form or join co-ops and community-supported agriculture schemes. Avoid supermarkets in favor of farmers’ markets and generally make a conscientious effort to keep small retail alive. People can also participate in political and educational work by fostering conversations and activism around these issues, boycotting specific companies, and organizing collective campaigns to change what and how we consume, and who has power in the food sector.